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Searching for the Possible Blue Button Market

October 18, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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ONC’s Blue Button Hits the Private Sector in a Recent Initiative

The people at the Advisory Board Company, a Washington, D.C.-based research, technology, and consulting firm, are listening loud and clear to the message of Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the National Coordinator for Health IT. Dr. Mostashari has been actively promoting the Blue Button initiative, which is a concept that allows patients to easily view, transmit, and download their health information on the web. It was originally adopted by the Veterans Administration (VA), which recently surpassed the 1 million patient mark for accessing Blue Button.

The Advisory Board Company got on board with this initiative by opening up a Patient Engagement Blue Button Challenge. The initiative had the company look at five patient engagement vendors and their products, which were paired with five host sites. The vendors were judged on functionality, ease of use, updating and sharing patient information, and ease of integration.

The winner of the challenge was Kinergy Health, Vienna, Va., for its MyKinergy cloud-hosted tool. The Advisory Board Company awarded them $25,000. The judges included David Chao, Ph.D., chief technology officer of The Advisory Board Company; Aneesh Chopra, senior advisor at The Advisory Board Company, and the first chief technology officer of the U.S.; John Halamka, M.D., CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Jeffrey DiLisi, M.D., vice president, and chief medical officer at Virginia Hospital Center; and Halle Tecco, CEO of startup accelerator, Rock Health.

In an exclusive interview with Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Gabriel Perna, Dr. Chao explained the appeal of Blue Button and why The Advisory Board decided to take on this initiative. Below are excerpts from that interview.

David Chao, Ph.D.

Why did you start this challenge?  What’s the appeal of the Blue Button  initiative?

We ran the challenge because it seemed like a great way to get the competitive juices flowing in the market in general. Doing our part to foster the growth of something like Blue Button seemed like a great idea. Much more acutely, a great reason to run a challenge like this is to hopefully shine the light in areas where your company does not have a focus. We’ve been focusing for years on the provider side, on the hospitals, physicians, doing what we can to prove quality care, efficiency of care, through those parties. Blue Button, all of a sudden, is promising to do what we’ve possibly talked about for years. That’s getting patients, families, and patient advocates in the center of driving healthcare.

Blue Button puts the patient in the position of having something that the providers want, which is exactly this data. They’d love to have this data because it improves care for patients, and secondly it helps hospitals connect the dots to prevent readmissions. We can only prevent readmissions when we start gathering data to see where we can make improvements. With the data that the patient walks through the door with with Blue Button, the hospitals and clinics are going to be more sophisticated in their care.

For those reasons, we wanted to promote it. It’s not a business we’re in, but we have deep roots and strong connections to the hospitals, to the patients. We thought we were in a good position to host this challenge, and connect up these nascent companies with our customer base.

Did providers find the Blue Button-type solution helpful? How did connecting them with these vendors turn out?

It raised their awareness. Prior to this challenge, doctors didn’t know enough about Blue Button to form an opinion. In terms of awareness, I don’t think they got how contemporary the data was. The most interesting thing to me about what this challenge did for us is it gave us an incredibly strong indication that if these vendors build it, the providers will come and sign up. There is most likely a formula that will end up with a large number of patients signing up for and using Blue Button. The key to that is the physicians’ take on this.